FORT BRAGG, North Carolina (Feb. 22, 2019) -- The Army is piloting a new organizational design called the Expeditionary Signal Battalion-Enhanced (ESB-E), providing a current ESB with alternative tactical network equipment that is smaller, lighter, more agile and expeditionary.
As part of the Army's continued efforts to modernize the tactical network, Soldier feedback from training, operational and field exercises is helping shape future equipment solutions and force structure for the service's 24 ESBs.
Mostly recently, the pilot unit -- the 50th ESB-E, 35th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade -- supported the 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC) early entry command post (EE CP) training exercise, which concluded this week, at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. In preparation for the exercise, the 50th ESB-E and 1st TSC conducted a communication exercise (COMMEX) earlier this month at the 50th ESB-E's home station at Fort Bragg.
The EE CP exercise is part of the 1st TSC's renewed emphasis on building its capability to conduct more expeditionary operations. Since the unit does not have an organic signal company, it depends on expeditionary signal units to provide tactical network connectivity.
"We require responsive and scalable tactical communications with smaller teams that can deploy on short notice to support sustainment operations anywhere in the world," said Maj. Gen. Flem B. "Donnie" Walker Jr., commanding general for 1st TSC, a subordinate unit of Army Central Command. "Our footprint can scale in size from a small early entry command post to a full division-sized tactical operations center. Tactical signal equipment must be modular, lightweight, agile and tailorable to multiple mission sets."
Unlike past operations where units set up large static, cabled command posts, today, units must be constantly on the move if they want to survive. The final ESB-E network capability package will enable the Army's ESBs to keep up with the pace of operations and provide uninterrupted network connectivity and mission command to the units they support.
"This equipment and the professionals who operate it provide agility to the Commander," said Lt. Col. Gregory Napoli, 1st TSC assistant chief of staff and communications officer (G-6). "[In today's complex fights,] it is no longer feasible to deploy a platoon-sized element of Signal Soldiers with multiple trucks, trailers, and communications shelters to support a single command post. Network equipment must be lightweight and easily deployable, supportable by a small team of knowledgeable Signaleers."
Working closely with the Army's Network-Cross Functional Team, Project Manager (PM) Tactical Network, assigned to Program Executive Office for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical (PEO C3T), completed fielding Company B, 50th ESB-E in November 2018, just eight months after concept approval. The PM expects to complete fielding the two remaining companies by late spring.
The 50th ESB-E's three companies will operate different sets of equipment so the Army can determine the salient characteristics needed to meet future ESB equipment requirements. Each company will receive small, medium and large triband satellite dishes and network baseband equipment packages; the high capacity and range extending Terrestrial Line Of Sight (TRILOS) Radio; Secure Wi-Fi; Commercial Coalition Equipment; and a complete Network Operations (NetOps) package that enables units to plan, monitor, manage, secure and defend the network.
"In support of a near peer fight, this equipment makes us more agile," said Sgt. (P) Brian Cobb, a team chief for Company B, 50th ESB-E. "Yes, it is lighter, but it is also modular, so we can actually change on the fly and adjust to the mission. With that agility we can go where we need to be, set up wherever we need to set up, and we can change our assets as the unit's need changes. That ability to adapt makes us more lethal."
In preparation for the EE CP exercise, the COMMEX provided an opportunity for the 1st TSC to operate its mission command systems over the robust network backbone provided by the ESB-E. It also enabled the ESB-E to stress its new systems and purposely create issues and challenges so the Soldiers could learn to overcome them prior to an actual mission.
"We can't 'fight tonight' if we don't prepare the morning before," Cobb said. "Whether it's an exercise or real world mission, the COMMEX is our warm up before the fight, our last checklist, but it also enables us to train our Soldiers and give them the tools they need to fight before we get there."
The Army will continue to leverage experimentation and Soldier feedback in a rapid acquisition Developmental/Operations construct to inform ESB-E network design, equipment basis of issue and force structure recommendations. Soldier feedback from these events will help inform Army decisions for ESB-E capability set fielding.
"The 1st TSC must be ready to deploy any time to any theater…We must be agile enough to maintain mission command and operational level sustainment from any location to support any mission we are called upon to execute," Napoli said. "To stay ahead of the enemy, resiliency and redundancy are key. We depend on our Signal Soldiers to provide a resilient communication PACE [primary, alternate, contingency, emergency] plan for all operations, to enable seamless mission command in any environment."
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The U.S. Army Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical develops, acquires, fields and supports the Army's mission command network to ensure force readiness. This critical Army modernization priority delivers tactical communications so commanders and Soldiers can stay connected and informed at all times, even in the most austere and hostile environments. PEO C3T is delivering the network to regions around the globe, enabling high-speed, high-capacity voice, data and video communications to a user base that includes the Army's joint, coalition and other mission partners.